My flatmate Lisa once told me that it’s the things that go wrong that makes travelling so special – roach-infested hostels, having your bag nicked, taking a dodgy backstreet imagining you’re going to get stabbed in the vain attempt to work out where the hell you are etc…are all “adventures”. Needless to say, I was somewhat sceptical and decided to ignore the advice of this seasoned traveller when I recently went to see the Sistine Chapel. I thought, “How hard can it be? Put clothes in backpack, grab guidebook and go.” As traveller-virgins invariably do, I discovered I had a lot to learn.
Firstly, the art of packing. I stuffed clothes in that backpack like there was no tomorrow (mostly comprising strappy pink shoes, a DKNY jacket and several à la mode skirts). “I do need them,” I insisted. Ignoring the raised eyebrows and cutting Lisa off before she could even open her mouth, I headed for Heathrow.
“What do you mean I can’t take 15 kilos worth of hand luggage?… Just pretend I weigh more or something,” were my first words to the grim woman behind the checkout counter. Surprisingly they didn’t work, so I was in a less-than-good mood as I said goodbye, again refused Lisa’s attempts at advice and went through the slidy-Star-Trek-like doors.
After a very long wait during which time I was forced to listen to some whining child who wanted his daddy to buy him the Pokémon he’d seen in the duty free shop and having to buy a copy of 100 Crossword Favourites because the bitch in front of me bought the last Cosmo, I got on the plane.
My first question was why I’d had to spend so much money to be allocated this matchbox seat, when I could have stuffed myself into a child’s car seat for free? I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that even Kate Moss would struggle to get her skinny ass into one of those seats. Needless to say, not being a supermodel, it was a tight fit.
Anyway, I survived the seat, the in-flight music and even the plane “food”, and eventually landed in Rome. Buena sera land of lasagne, Chianti and some of the most gorgeous men on the planet. (I knew that last bit was a generalisation, but I’ve got an Italian ex and had seen pictures of Sophia Loren’s sons) I was determined to sample some of the local delicacies and couldn’t wait to get started … until I tried to lift my pack (Lisa had carried it for me at Heathrow) I resisted the temptation to get a taxi – if everyone else could do this travelling thing, so could I.
I arrived at the hostel somewhat ruffled. I had passed a group of men old enough to remember the Queen Mum as a teenager and to my horror, one of them had pinched by bum. No one warned me that they might be old, but they’re wily and their grope-young-girl instinct was still in tact even if their hearing isn’t, especially when she’s struggling to drag a backpack down the street in a mini skirt. My high school Italian didn’t equip with the comment I was looking for so I quickly walked on, doing a fairly decent Bart Simpson-like shudder.
Arriving at the hostel at around 8pm, I discovered a queue. At the end of this queue was a “full” sign. Oh my god, I was in a foreign city full of dirty old men as darkness was setting in. “Ok,” I thought, “don’t panic. You’ve been in worse situations …” Too late. My screaming, foot stamping and seemingly endless stream of words not fit to publish here brought embarrassment and fear for the receptionist and the desired effect for me – apparently downstairs was a small hotel which was a little more expensive but very nice. Thanks darling.
I turned to head for the door and nearly collided with a rather nice example of Canadian manhood. Finding himself in the same situation as me and then that it was cheaper to share a room, we ended up sharing 5b .. and the following night his bed. He didn’t turn out to be the love of my life and we have of course broke the “keep in touch” promise but we had a great weekend together, he taught me a lot about travelling including how to bring myself to dump a few pairs of shoes and to carry my own pack …. oh, and I got to see the Chapel.